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17 September 2012, 12:53 | Updated: 17 September 2012, 13:40
More than 80 per cent of Norfolk's homes and businesses will be able to access superfast broadband services by June 2015, after a multi-million pound deal was reached by Norfolk County Council's Cabinet today.
Councillors approved BT as the County Council's partner in its Better Broadband for Norfolk project.
The deal means that double the number of properties in the county will have access to superfast broadband speeds, classified as 24 megabits per second (Mbps) and above, and will see every single property in Norfolk able to access a minimum of a basic broadband service (at least 2Mbps) by June 2015.
Without the project, there would be no timetable for these improvements to be made and it estimated that around 57 per cent of the county's premises would not be able to access superfast broadband in three years' time.
BT will now install an 'open' broadband infrastructure necessary to deliver improved broadband speeds and services to properties across the county, with the majority of those properties connected by 'Next Generation Access' infrastructure, either wholly or partially made up of fibre optic cabling.
Internet service providers, including any of the 50-plus providers currently using BT's infrastructure, would then be able to offer a broadband service in a competitive market.
The Better Broadband for Norfolk project was launched by Norfolk County Council in order to bring better broadband provision to the large swathes of Norfolk that currently suffer from poor or no broadband access.
Last year the council pledged £15 million to help bring this about, and this was matched by central Government as it became one of the first local authorities in the UK to be successful in bidding for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding.
In its bid, BT pledged to make a £9.3 million 'capital' contribution towards the cost of installing the broadband infrastructure, and in addition will cover the ongoing costs of supporting and maintaining the networks.
Ian Mackie, Deputy Leader at Norfolk County Council and Vice Chairman of the Better Broadband for Norfolk Steering Group, said: "The significance of this deal and this project for the future success of our county cannot be underestimated. This represents a staggering acceleration in broadband provision in Norfolk.
"From the start, the County Council realised this was an opportunity that would bring huge benefits to hundreds of thousands of people living and working in Norfolk. Our pledge of £15 million last year signalled our intent to make better broadband access a priority, and, having seized the opportunity, now we can see what this commitment has led to in terms of results for the county. I am convinced that this offers excellent value for money for Norfolk and its residents.
"Hard work and determined effort from all those involved has ensured that not only are we on schedule but we are due to become the first local authority to appoint a partner through the national Broadband Delivery UK contract framework, which puts Norfolk in a terrific position. This is the beginning of the end of the huge broadband inequality that exists in Norfolk and I am so pleased that we have stood up for the interests of Norfolk and brought this about."
While the minimum broadband speed available to properties in Norfolk by June 2015 under the deal would be 2Mbps, the majority of those properties not in the 'superfast' (24Mbps+) bracket would be able to access speeds significantly higher than this minimum standard. Twenty per cent of benefitting properties will be able to receive services with speeds ranging from five and 23Mbps. At the other end of the scale, 49 per cent of properties are expected to be able to access speeds of between 50 and 100Mbps, with a further six per cent able to receive speeds in excess of 100Mbps.
The contract is due to be formally awarded later this autumn. At this stage, detailed planning of the installation schedule will begin and information on this will be shared with Norfolk residents and businesspeople at the earliest opportunity.
Suffolk County Council is currently looking at a broadband bid from BT.